UN rights experts present evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

UN rights experts present evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
Chair of the Human Rights Expert Members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine Erik Mose and members attend a news conference following the presentation of their report. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2022

UN rights experts present evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

UN rights experts present evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
  • The experts from the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine have so far focused on four regions – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy
  • They cited testimonies by former detainees of beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention facilities

GENEVA: A team of experts commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body to look into rights violations in Ukraine said Friday its initial investigation turned up evidence of war crimes in the country following Russia’s invasion nearly seven months ago.
The experts from the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, mandated by Human Rights Council earlier this year, have so far focused on four regions – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
Presenting their most extensive findings so far, they cited testimonies by former detainees of beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention facilities, and expressed grave concerns about executions in the four regions.
“We were struck by the large number of executions in the areas that we visited. The commission is currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements,” Erik Mose, the commission chairman, told the council. He didn’t specify who or which side in the war allegedly committed the killings.
Mose said his team had received and was documenting “credible allegations regarding many more cases of executions.” During a 10-day June trip to Ukraine, the team visited Bucha, a city outside Kyiv where Ukrainian authorities found mass graves and bodies strewn in the streets after Russian forces pulled out in late March.
The findings echo reports by news outlets and others of the destruction, death and despair in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24.
The commission’s work could ultimately contribute to the work of International Criminal Court prosecutors who could bring charges over war crimes in Ukraine, although it remains uncertain whether Russia or other alleged perpetrators will ever face justice.
Anton Korynevych, ambassador-at-large for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, joined envoys from a number of Western countries who spoke out against Moscow’s war in the wake of the commission’s presentation. Russia’s delegation boycotted the council meeting.
Korynevych, speaking by video, called for the creation of a special tribunal that would have jurisdiction “over the crime of aggression against Ukraine” and investigate senior Russian political and military leaders who were allegedly responsible.
He said accountability was crucial for rights violations and atrocities linked to Russia’s “aggression” but also highlighted how the effects of the war has ‘rippled through the world and “put numerous countries on the verge of hunger, exacerbated extreme poverty, created the threat of nuclear catastrophe unseen before” and harmed the livelihoods of millions worldwide.
Investigators for the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centers; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; and met with advocacy groups and government officials, Mose said.
“Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” he said.
He said the team had examined two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian soldiers by Ukrainian forces.
Mose said an unspecified number of Russian soldiers were found to have committed crimes of sexual or gender-based violence – with victims ranging in age from 4 to 82 years old.
The commission plans to gradually expand its investigation, with areas of interest including allegations of filtration camps for people being detained or deported, the forced transfer of people, and allegations of expedited adoption of children.
“The evidence of Russia’s atrocities becomes more horrifying by the day, most recently with the uncovering of mass graves in Izium, where the bodies show signs of torture,” Michele Taylor, the US ambassador to the Human Rights Council, said, referring to a Kharkiv region city that Ukrainian forces recaptured in recent weeks.
Taylor urged the commissioners to continue to “examine the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances.”
She referred to “numerous sources” that indicated Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and/or forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, and reports that children were being deported from Ukraine and placed in Russian orphanages for adoption.
Added German ambassador Katharina Stasch: “Make no mistake, we will hold those who are responsible for these crimes accountable.”


NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine
Updated 11 sec ago

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine
  • NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriots and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a “criminal entity” for delivering arms to what he called “Ukrainian fanatics”

KYIV: NATO allies promised on Tuesday more arms for Kyiv and equipment to help restore Ukrainian power and heat knocked out by Russian missile and drone strikes, as air raid sirens blared across Ukraine for the first time this week.
Ukrainians fled the streets for bomb shelters, although the all-clear later sounded across the country. In the eastern Donetsk region Russian forces pounded Ukrainian targets with artillery, mortar and tank fire.
Foreign ministers from the NATO alliance, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, began a two-day meeting in Bucharest, seeking ways both to keep Ukrainians safe and warm and to sustain Kyiv’s military through a coming winter campaign.
“We need air defense, IRIS, Hawks, Patriots, and we need transformers (for our energy needs),” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, enumerating various Western air defense systems.
“In a nutshell: Patriots and transformers are what Ukraine needs the most.”
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev
warned
NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriots and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a “criminal entity” for delivering arms to what he called “Ukrainian fanatics.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to use winter as a weapon of war” as Moscow’s forces lose ground on the battlefield.
In a statement, NATO ministers condemned Russia’s “persistent and unconscionable attacks on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure” and confirmed a 2008 decision that Ukraine will eventually join the alliance. But it announced no concrete steps or timetable that would bring it closer to NATO.
US and European officials said ministers would focus in their talks on non-lethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance. Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment.
The foreign minister of Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis, urged his NATO colleagues to take the political decision to send modern battle tanks to Ukraine to give them a military edge against Russian forces. Western powers have been reluctant to go down that road for fear of stoking direct conflict with Russia.
ACCUMULATING DAMAGE
Russia has been carrying out huge attacks on Ukraine’s electricity transmission and heating infrastructure roughly weekly since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime.
Moscow says hurting civilians is not its aim but that their suffering will end only if Kyiv accepts its demands, which it has not spelled out. Although Kyiv says it shoots down most of the incoming missiles, the damage has been accumulating and the impact growing more severe with each strike.
A senior US military official said on Tuesday Russia was firing unarmed cruise missiles that were designed to carry nuclear warheads at targets in Ukraine to try to deplete Kyiv’s stocks of air defenses.
The worst barrage so far was on Nov. 23, leaving millions of Ukrainians in cold and darkness. President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainians at the start of this week to expect another soon that would be at least as damaging.
There are no political talks to end the war. Moscow has annexed Ukrainian territory which it says it will never relinquish; Ukraine says it will fight until it recovers all occupied land.
Kyiv said it wants weapons to help it end the war — by winning it.
“No eloquent speech will say more than concrete action. ‘Patriot’, ‘F-16’, or ‘Leopard’ for Ukraine,” tweeted presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, referring to US anti-aircraft missiles and fighter jets, and German tanks.
’RISKS ARE GROWING’
Russia called off nuclear talks with the United States this week at the last minute. Moscow said it had “no choice” but to cancel the talks, aimed at resuming inspections under an arms control treaty, because Washington refused to address its wider concerns about strategic stability.
Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as warning Washington of unspecified risks because of its support for Kyiv against what Russia calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor.
“We are sending signals to the Americans that their line of escalation and ever deeper involvement in this conflict is fraught with dire consequences. The risks are growing,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
In Kyiv, snow fell and temperatures were hovering around freezing as millions in and around the capital struggled to heat their homes. After a week of trying to restore electricity from the last attacks, national grid operator Ukrenergo said the system was still suffering a 30 percent shortfall of needed power.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said on Tuesday evening Russian forces in the Donetsk region were continuing to focus their efforts on taking the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka. A Russian missile strike on Lyman killed one person and injured three others, it said.
Ukrainian aircraft carried out nine strikes targeting Russian servicemen and equipment, notably in the southern central Zaporizhzhia region, the General Staff said.
In the southern Kherson and Kriviy Rih regions, it added, Russian forces are consolidating their defenses and keeping up artillery attacks, including on the city of Kherson which Ukraine recently recaptured.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said electricity had been restored to 50 percent of Kherson city after heavy Russian bombardment.
Both sides will have to keep troops supplied and healthy in cold, wet trenches for the first long winter of the war, a bigger challenge for the Russians as an invading force with longer and more vulnerable supply lines.

 


Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup
Updated 7 min 2 sec ago

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has not submitted an official bid to host the FIFA World Cup, the tourism ministry said on Wednesday.

“Saudi Arabia is always considering to host a number of large sporting events, as part of promoting sport and tourism in the Kingdom in line with Saudi Vision 2030,” the ministry tweeted.

The Kingdom has hosted a number of major sporting events in Saudi Arabia including Formula 1, football and heavyweight boxing title fights.

Saudi Vision aims to reform the Kingdom on a number of fronts including in tourism, culture and innovative technologies with a view to reorient the country’s economy away from a dependence on oil exports.


Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot
Updated 27 min 33 sec ago

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

WASHINGTON: Stewart Rhodes, founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group, was convicted by a jury on Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for last year’s attack on the US Capitol in a failed bid to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss — an important victory for the Justice Department.
Rhodes, a Yale Law School-educated former Army paratrooper and disbarred attorney, was accused by prosecutors during an eight-week trial of fomenting a plot to use force to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.
He was the best-known of the five defendants in the most significant of the numerous trials arising from the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. One co-defendant, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy on Tuesday, while three others — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — were acquitted of that charge.
US District Judge Amit Mehta has presided over the trial. The jury deliberated for three days.
Rhodes, who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, is one of the most prominent defendants of the roughly 900 charged so far in connection with the attack.
Rhodes in 2009 founded the Oath Keepers, a militia group whose members include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. Its members have showed up, often heavily armed, at protests and political events around the United States including the racial justice demonstrations following the murder of a Black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Prosecutors during the trial said Rhodes and his co-defendants planned to use force to prevent Congress from formally certifying Biden’s election victory. Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson all entered the Capitol clad in tactical gear.
The defendants was were accused of creating a “quick reaction force” that prosecutors said positioned at a nearby Virginia hotel and was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington if summoned.
Fifty witnesses testified during the trial. Rhodes and two of his co-defendants testified in their own defense. They denied plotting any attack or seeking to block Congress from certifying the election results, though Watkins admitted to impeding police officers protecting the Capitol.
Rhodes told the jury he had no plan to storm the Capitol and did not learn that some of his fellow Oath Keepers had breached the building until after the riot had ended.
Prosecutors during cross-examination sought to paint Rhodes as a liar, showing him page after page of his inflammatory text messages, videos, photos and audio recordings. These included Rhodes lamenting about not bringing rifles to Washington on Jan. 6 and saying he could have hanged US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat reviled by the right, from a lamppost.
Watkins, a transgender woman who fled the US Army after being confronted with homophobic slurs, and Caldwell, a disabled US Navy veteran, also chose to testify.
Watkins admitted to having “criminal liability” for impeding police officers inside the Capitol and apologized. At the same time, Watkins denied having any plan to storm the building, describing being “swept up” just as enthusiastic shoppers behave on “Black Friday” when they rush into stores to purchase discount-price holiday gifts like TVs.
Caldwell, who like Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building and never formally joined the Oath Keepers, tried to downplay some of the inflammatory texts he sent in connection with the attack. Caldwell said some of the lines were adapted from or inspired by movies such as “The Princess Bride” and cartoons such as Bugs Bunny.
Four other Oath Keepers members charged with seditious conspiracy are due to go to trial in December. Members of another right-wing group called the Proud Boys, including its former chairman Enrique Tarrio, also are due to head to trial on seditious conspiracy charges in December.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)


Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
Updated 29 November 2022

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
  • This is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia
  • The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron was set to arrive in Washington Tuesday for a rare state visit hosted by Joe Biden, but hard-nosed disagreements about US-EU trade will loom over the pomp and ceremony at the White House.
Due to Covid delays, this is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France for the honor reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Biden will host Macron with a full ceremonial military welcome, a poignant visit to Arlington National Cemetery, an Oval Office sit down, a private dinner with their spouses Wednesday and the state banquet on Thursday, where Grammy-award winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform.
Compared to Macron’s edgy first experience of a state visit as the guest of Donald Trump in 2018, this trip — concluding with a stop Friday to the once-French city of New Orleans — will be a carefully choreographed display of transatlantic friendship.
Certainly the diplomatic furor that erupted last year when Australia canceled a deal for French submarines and instead signed up for US nuclear subs is now buried.
But even with little risk of Trump-style fireworks, Macron has major grievances to air.
Top of these is tension over Biden’s signature green industry policy, the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which will pump billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, with strong backing for American-made products.
Europeans fear an unfair US advantage in the rapidly emerging sector just as they are reeling from the economic consequences of the Ukraine war and Western attempts to end reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Talk in Europe is now increasingly on whether the bloc should respond with its own subsidies for homegrown products, effectively starting a trade war.
“China favors its own products, America favors its own products. It might be time for Europe to favor its own products,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 radio on Sunday.
Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of think-tank GMF, said Macron will tell Biden “there’s a contradiction between an administration that constantly talks of alliances... and at the same time takes a decision like the IRA that will impact allies’ economies.”
Another gripe in Europe is the high cost for US liquid natural gas exports — surged to try and replace canceled Russian deliveries.
Responding to accusations that the United States is effectively profiteering from the Ukraine war, a senior US administration official said this was a “false claim.”
The official also played down IRA-related tensions, saying a “very constructive set of conversations” is underway on how to prevent European companies from being shut out.
To underline the importance of the issue for Paris, Macron met with dozens of business executives ahead of his departure to Washington, urging them to keep investing in France. These included representatives from US giants Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s.
The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit.
However, at the White House, a senior official said the main goal is to nurture the “personal relationship, the alliance relationship” with France — and between Biden and Macron.
That more modest sounding goal will include improving coordination on helping Ukraine to repel Russia and the even more vexing question of how to manage the rise of the Chinese superpower.
“We are not allies on the same page,” one adviser to Macron told AFP, forecasting “challenging” talks with Biden.
Despite his strong support for Kyiv, Macron’s insistence on continuing to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has irked American diplomats.
The China question — with Washington pursuing a more hawkish tone and EU powers trying to find a middle ground — is unlikely to see much progress.
“Europe has since 2018 its own, unique strategy for relations with China,” tweeted French embassy spokesman Pascal Confavreux in Washington.
A senior US official said even if their approaches were “not identical,” they should be at least “speaking from a common script.”


Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
Updated 29 November 2022

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family

Belgian locked up by Iran on hunger strike: family
  • Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering "monstruous injustice" at the hands of Iranian authorities
  • He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions

BRUSSLES: A Belgian aid worker detained in Iran is on a hunger strike over the “inhuman” treatment by his captors, his family said on Tuesday, expressing worries about his failing health.
Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, is suffering “monstruous injustice” at the hands of Iranian authorities, who arrested him in Tehran in February, they said in a statement.
He is one of several Western nationals detained in Iran, in what foreign-based activists say is a bid to extract concessions.
Iran is seeking the return of one of its diplomats, Assadollah Assadi, who is in prison in Belgium serving a 20-year sentence after being found guilty last year of masterminding a foiled 2018 bomb plot outside Paris.
Vandecasteele has been kept in solitary confinement since being seized and is suffering a growing number of physical afflictions, his family said.
They included “major weight loss, haematomas on his toes, fingernail loss, and worrying dental and gastric problems,” they said.
He started his hunger strike two weeks ago, consuming nothing more than bread and water once a day.
His last communication with his family was on September 1, and they said they feared he was suffering “irreversible harm” from the “disgraceful” detention conditions.
The bomb plot Assadi was convicted for was an attempted attack on a conference outside Paris held by an exiled Iranian opposition group.
Iran insists that Assadi should enjoy diplomatic immunity, even though he was arrested in Germany, away from Austria where he was accredited to work in Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
Belgium this year agreed a prisoner-swap treaty with Iran seen as opening the door for Assadi to be sent home if Tehran releases Vandecasteele.
But the treaty has generated controversy, with some Belgian politicians, Iranian opposition groups and the United States all coming out against it as allowing an Iranian “terrorist” to escape justice.